According to what's being reported on the Internet, it's a done deal. The Fox network is cancelling Backstrom (starring the brilliant Rainn Wilson). To fans of the show, this is shattering news. Arguably, with its wicked blend of forensics and fraternal dark humor, it is (was) the best cop show on TV.
Fox is pulling the plug because (1) the show has been on the air for only one season and (2) because, even in its rookie season, it hasn't quite gotten the hoped for ratings. Fine. It was a brand new show and it experienced growing pains. Understandably, it had trouble attracting an audience. Alas, instead of hitting a homerun, it hit a solid single, and for that reason, they dumped it.
But rarely has a quality show been treated more unfairly. Scheduling it on Thursday night, as they did, and pitting it against NBC's popular cop show The Blacklist (with James Spader), was tantamount to issuing it a death sentence.
Putting a new cop show up against the venerable Blacklist would be like scheduling a Seinfeld rerun opposite ABC's recent interview with Bruce Jenner, and then expressing surprise and dismay at its low ratings. Not only was failure an "option," folks, it was practically a guarantee.
And not to knock The Blacklist (which I watched with pleasure until Backstrom made its debut), but other than the excellent James Spader himself, the series has lost its way. In truth, it now has little to recommend it. Given how enigmatic it tries to be and how shamelessly it milks its premise, the show has become a glorified Shaggy Dog story.
Was Elizabeth Keen's husband Tom killed or was he still alive? He's gone for good, then he shows up again. Was he "nice" or was he bad? Or was he once bad but now "nice"? Or were they even really married? And what about Red Reddington? There's a point in every story where screwy plot lines risk becoming so screwy, they eat away at the credibility. Blacklist has reached that point.
You get the feeling the writers were caught so unprepared for the show's success, the prospect of having to deliver so many additional scripts caused them to embrace teaser after teaser, stalling for time to clear things up. Enough already. Give us something.
Based on a character (Everett Backstrom) created by Swedish novelist Leif Persson, the show revolves around a Portland, Oregon, police department special investigative unit headed by a magnificently flawed Rainn Wilson in the title role.
The show's chemistry is perfect. Valentine, Almond, Gravely, Moto, Niedermayer, Paquet -- everyone is interesting and believable in their own way. It's funny, it's fast-moving, it's clever, and it's elegantly written.
If I were to address Fox's program director, I would say the following. "I'm you. I have a chance to embark on a genuinely original cop series. Do I put some skin in the game, and take a chance? Or do I take the easy way out and ride the ratings? Of course, I choose the latter. That's why there's so much mediocrity."
David Macaray is a playwright and author.
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